Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Finding Silver in Bronze: Marvel Double Feature 2

Marvel Double Feature #2 (February 1973)
"Them" (originally presented in Tales of Suspense 78)
Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/Frank Giacoia
"Into the Jaws of Death" (originally presented in Tales of Suspense 85)
Stan Lee-Gene Colan/Frankie Giacoia
Doug: Today we're going to kick off the first new series of our second year -- "Finding Silver in Bronze". You know, as we've been saying over the past few weeks, many of the Giant-Size issues, Annuals, the Treasury Editions -- all of these often contained Silver Age reprint material. Marvel also dedicated several new-release magazines to preserving their Silver Age history. This series will look at those so-called "reprint titles", like Marvel's Greatest Comics, Marvel Tales, Marvel Super-Heroes, and this title -- Marvel Double Feature.

Doug: First of all, I had to do a little research, and got a surprise. Usually in these books there was a small box just above the indicia that told where the material originally appeared. No such luck here. What I was surprised about was that these two stories came from two different issues of Tales of Suspense, and each was slightly altered to fit into the "modern" page count.

Karen: Since I don't have this particular issue of Marvel Double Feature, I'll be using my Captain America DVD rom to read these tales.

Doug: The plot of the Captain America story is pretty basic, although there is quite a bit of Marvel history packed into the ten pages. Cap's alone in Avengers mansion (during the "Kooky Quartet" era of the Avengers) doing a training session when Col. Nick Fury happens by. Interrupting Cap, and nearly putting his own life in danger, Fury tells Cap that SHIELD is up against a new, unseen foe known only as "Them". Pretty typical Stan Lee cornball writing, huh? And what's more, this organization has perfected a means of duplicating the human brain, and installing it in androids.

Karen: This story really felt like it was 75% Kirby, 25% Lee! The emphasis on non-stop action, the bizarre tiny brain, humanoids, etc, all gave me the impression that Stan did little more than script this issue, which was not that unusual. But this particular story has Kirby written all over it.

Doug: The duo are soon attacked by one such android, who emits acid and melts himself right through the wall of the mansion. A melee breaks out as Fury and Cap try unsuccessfully to stop their new adversary. While battling, they determine that the pods on the android's torso are full of chemicals, which it mixes to give off a new hazard. Cap's shield, Fury's fists, a pistol, and a hand grenade all prove futile in stopping the construct.

Doug: Flash away, then, to a high-tech lab where some dudes in yellow beehive hats are discussing their plans to dominate SHIELD. Yep, it's those lovable techies from AIM -- Advanced Idea Mechanics! But, at this time they weren't yet named. They were only known as... Them! Man, this is Silver Age Stan at his finest. And Kirby's art is familiarly flamboyant -- accurate anatomy be damned!

Karen: I really loved the big "vats" here where 'THEM" are growing humanoids. In the one marked Stage 2, you can just see these tiny heads poking out above the liquid. Then in the bigger vat marked Stage 4, we see full-sized humanoids being grown. Although it's completely insane, it feels like there is a sense of order to this madness!
Doug: Fury finally beats the baddie with "SHIELD knock-out drops" -- yep, this was also the era of the campy Batman television show, and there was no shortage of stuff like that in this story (like the Avengers' "automatic Frigi-defense circuit"). Fury notices the thing has a mouth, so he pops some pills right down the shoot. Wrecks the deal completely.

Doug: As I mentioned, this tale took place during the Kooky Quartet era when the Avengers were comprised of Cap, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch. During that period, Cap often pined for a job with SHIELD. In that light, there's a little pay-off here.

Karen: Funny to think, now that Cap is often considered the most indispensable Avenger, that there was a time when he really didn't want to be an Avenger!

Doug: The super-nasty in the Iron Man story is none other than the Mandarin! And he ain't playing nice. Apparently in the last issue, faithful Happy Hogan had the suit on and was captured. Now the Mandarin is slicing and dicing him up with his ten rings.

Karen: Considering he got no resistance from Happy, shouldn't the Mandarin have started to clue into the fact that this wasn't the real Iron Man? I would have thought he was more observant than that!

Doug: Cut back to the States, where Tony Stark has just checked himself out of the hospital. He rushes to his factory on Long Island Sound and begins to modify a suit of armor, hoping to make his strongest creation to date. Gene Colan is in top form in these panels, with multiple camera angles and a full page showing Stark's frenetic efforts. Good stuff!
Karen: The scene where Stark enters his Long Island plant was funny - no ID card, he just says,"Don't you recognize me?" What a lack of security. Yet when he enters his private lab, the locking mechanism on the door is activated by his fingerprint! He thinks about how he needs to patent it -well heck, I'd put that doohickey at the front gate too!

Karen: It was fun seeing how Stark's employees comment about how he's got everything -rich, famous, handsome, and genius too! They sure played that idea up in the recent movies.

Doug: You can tell that Stan was still on the Red Scare kick a bit. Before embarking to Asia to confront the Mandarin, Stark tape records all of his secrets to give to Senator Byrd. As Stark comments, "I feel better for having done that! For, if anything should happen to me -- my secrets must never be lost to those who fight for freedom!"

Karen: OK, this is weird. I haven't read the issues before this one, so I don't really know who Senator Byrd is, but the REAL Senator Robert Byrd just passed away. Just struck me as odd. And Byrd would have been a senator at the time this issue was published -1967!

Karen: The scene where IM super-charges himself or whatever he's doing is pretty dynamic. But I was surprised -Shellhead says the rays he's bathing in will strengthen his blood cells! So besides making new armor he's affecting his physiology? Man, these Marvel scientists and engineers are all experts at everything!

Doug: As Iron Man approaches the Mandarin's lair, we see the ringed one interrogating Happy. Just as Happy's about to get his, who should bust in, but the real Iron Man! As they say, to be continued. Only problem is, I don't have the next issue!

Karen: I'm pretty sure Happy comes out of this just fine, Doug!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Giant-Size June! G-S X-Men #1

Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May 1975)
"Second Genesis!"
Len Wein-Dave Cockrum

Doug: To close out our month-long look at some of the oversized comic goodness that brightened our lives back in the Bronze Age, we'll be peeking between the covers of one of the Holy Grails of the 1970's -- Giant-Size X-Men #1. Yes, back in the late spring of 1975, you truly could have had your senses shattered by this 1st issue! As my resource -- I'm not one who was lucky enough to ever own this tome -- I'll be using the Marvel Milestone Edition from 1991, which is an exact reproduction of the original issue, ads and all.

Karen: Although I do have a copy of GS X-Men #1, it's not in the greatest shape any more (too many
re-readings), so I'm using the paperback edition of Marvel Masterworks X-Men for this review.

Doug: I re-read this last night (as I type this) before sitting down to comment. I'm
not sure where to begin... I had a Mego playmate who owned this off the shelf, and I had X-Men #95-96 as they came out -- I knew about this story and these characters "back in the day". In fact, I'd venture to say that in 1975 I had little to no knowledge of the original X-Men beyond what was mentioned in the issues I've named. In my world, Beast was an Avenger, Angel and Iceman were Champions, and Cyke and Marvel Girl were X-Men. So for me, these were "my" X-Men, and Dave Cockrum was the artist. When I read this last night, I had all of the same emotions -- the excitement, the geeked-out fanboy giddiness -- that I felt 35 years ago. Whenever youngsters argue that Silver and Bronze Age material doesn't "hold up"... send them to this one. Shoot, send them straight through the All-New, All-Different era all the way to Byrne's departure after "Days of Future Past". Then tell them that's what it means to "hold up" after a long time.

Karen: I can still remember when I got this issue. My brother and I were out running er
rands for our folks on a Saturday and we stopped at The Book Nook. I was really taken with this book because 1) it was a giant-size, and 2) these were not the X-Men I knew from the reprints I had been reading. Once I read it -and saw the beautiful Cockrum art -I was just like you Doug: giddy with excitement.

Doug: The reader with a little history knowledge can grab a real sense of appreciation of where Dave Cockrum had been prior to joining the Marvel Comics Group. From the opening pages of this story, a world tour begins that brings a slight smile -- this wasn't a team culled from the United Planets, but one taken from the United Nations. All of the introductory segments for the new characters are nice -- I particularly liked the three pages spotlighting Nightcrawler. It was straight out of a 1930's horror movie with the crazed villagers setting upon the misunderstood monster!
Karen: Oh yeah, Nightcrawler was definitely in the Frankenstein role there!
Doug: I found it curious, though, in the Wolverine segment, that Charles Xavier could offer Logan (whoops -- not called that yet!) the chance to "become a free agent". The Canadian military officer was right to protest, and loudly. Crazy Americans...

Karen: In retrospect, do we have to wonder if there was a little bit of mind control there, to even allow Charles to get on that base?

Doug: Ha! Yeah -- Jedi mind trick... I thought it was interesting that Xavier recruited Banshee (other than Cyclops, the only new X-Man with ties to the old team) in Nashville, TN. That is the city where we last saw him, in the pages of Captain America during the "Secret Empire" storyline.

Karen: Oh yeah, that was great - Marvel continuity at its finest! And in that same panel are three distinct looking background characters -I'm not sure who the two guys are (Cockrum and Wein, maybe?), but the girl is a dead ringer for Tinya Wazzo, aka Phantom Girl from Cockrum's recently departed Legion series!

Doug: I believe that is Cockrum at top and Len Wein in the foreground, yes. I recall being amazed that Storm was drawn topless -- I'm not sure if I thought it was dirty or not... but I do remember staring at those panels! Her's was an almost-pitiful story, and Xavier was right to term it a "fantasy". Cutting then right to Japan and Xavier's audience with Sunfire -- what a jerk! I'm glad to this day that he didn't stick around. Later, Thunderbird and Wolverine would provide enough brashness that the team did not also need to deal with Shiro.
Doug: Next to Storm, the introduction of Colossus was the most sentimental. Len Wein and Cockrum really did a nice job in these little vignettes. Peter's care for his sister and his parents was very touching. Of course, I'm sure at the time the USSR would not have let Piotr leave so easily!

Doug: Lastly, John Proudstar was appropriately named. Wein targeted the emotions of a young, disenchanted Native American in a quite believable fashion. This part of the story, and future exchanges involving Thunderbird, was rife with racist language which was, again, appropriate.

Karen: Maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but I loved all of these introductions. They did what they were supposed to do: define the characters for the reader. With Storm we get a sense of her regal bearing and power; Colossus shows his great strength and humble spirit; and we can feel the rage and frustration boiling inside Thunderbird. While I liked Thunderbird from the outset, reading his dialogue today he sounds just like Wolverine to me. It's no wonder they decided to give him the ax.

Doug: Once the team was assembled (in a very nice splash by Cockrum), they are introduced to their leader, Cyclops. Right away I noticed the change in his visor, and thought it looked great! Cockrum's pencils were just outstanding throughout the book -- I've always felt he was underrated in comparison to his contemporaries, and perhaps it's due to his too-short stints on the Legion and here with the X-Men. But it's hard to find something of his that I don't like. His also very short run on the Avengers was solid. The man just poured passion into his pages, and I think that's mainly to do with his having been a fan before he entered the field professionally.

Karen: His art here is fantastic. I've always appreciated his attention to detail, and th
e scenes of the big battle later on just resonate with power. Another one of his virtues was his ability to handle large numbers of characters in single scenes. He was such a great artist.

Doug: So the mission is for the new team to go to the island of Krakoa and rescue the original members. We get a nice recap of what had transpired, a little taste of mystery, and some outstanding characterization of all 14 of the characters in this story. You think of the X-Men, you think of Chris Claremont -- but it's Len Wein here who really has his finger on the pulse of these characters. Just outstanding dialogue, etc.

Karen: You're right, most of us do think of Claremont when we think of this team, but here Wein gave us the basic personalities of these characters.

Doug: As the mission begins, the team is broken up into pairs, sort of like the old JLA/JSA team-ups. Again, this serves as moments for characterization, measurements of powers, etc. I have to say, the cliche "jumping on point" is used way too often these days; however, this issue truly was a start-up, and anyone coming to this title shouldn't have had any doubts about what had gone before with the original team, nor about who these new folks were and where the book was going. Really, about the only thing that was dropped by Claremont, and I find it curious since it involved Nightcrawler (who Cockrum had had in store for years), was Kurt Wagner's bestial qualities -- howling, growling, etc.

Karen: I have to say, both then and now, I thought that "Krakoa -the island that walked like a man" was about the dumbest villain I'd ever seen. Seriously, while everything else in this issue gets an A, Krakoa does bring things down a notch for me. I don't care for the concept, and I don't care for the look. He looks like Man-Thing's big brother. Not the best idea in the world.

Doug: As the story reaches its apex, we see for the first time a plot device that would be employed off and on in subsequent adventures, and that is the linking of energy-powered characters -- in this case it's Storm, Polaris, Havok, and Cyclops. I thought here that Polaris was really over-powered, to the point where I wondered if she was stronger than Magneto. This was soon dropped, as the Sentinels story would show just a few months later.

Karen: Yes, the X-Men combining all their powers in to an all-out assault did seem to become a staple for the book. Even the cover to issue 126 shows the team in this manner.

Doug: Karen's mentioned that the production of these Giant-Size issues wasn't always reliable. While some books ran to a 5th or even 6th issue, X-Men reached only a second G-S issue, and it was a reprint of the Thomas/Adams issues. What's advertised in the "next issue" box is a story to be titled, "When the Doomsmith Strikes!" I'm pretty sure that was X-Men #94. The magazine concludes with three short reprints of the origins/powers of Cyclops, Iceman, and Marvel Girl; these stories ran in X-Men #'s 43, 47, and 57, respectively.

Karen: At the end of the story, Angel says,"What are we going to do with thirteen X-Men?" That answer would come swiftly in X-Men 94, as all of the original team left, except for Cyclops. Although we would see Jean return relatively quickly, and Lorna and Alex would also make appearances. But the baton had been passed - the Silver Age team was gone; the Bronze Age team was here. And the X-Men's domination of the Marvel universe had begun.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Marvelous House Ads, Part 1

Karen: As a kid, I not only devoured every Marvel story, but I enjoyed reading the letters pages and bullpen bulletins too. And besides those, there were always those great Marvel in-house ads, whether they were for posters or other toys, or just announcing new titles or characters. Marvel had a real identity, a real flavor, and it was typified by those ads.

Doug: Couldn't agree with you more. In addition to the little treats you mentioned, I enjoyed the Silver and early-Bronze Age habit of including artwork from the issue that the letters referenced. You know it's funny, but I guess how we usually organize one of our review posts looks somewhat like the letters pages to which I'm referring! Like many Marvel fans, the seemingly-personal interaction between fans and the Marvel personalities was really fun, and a sense that DC tried to match, but just couldn't. 

Karen: To the side here is an ad from 197o featuring some amazing posters you could order from Marvelmania. Man, I wish I had gotten these babies, especially the Galactus and Silver Surfer one! They are truly some great work by Kirby. I love how we get the headshot of the Thing telling us all about the posters. And the price! $1.25...oh my.

Doug: Isn't that what just kills you? I know it's relative to today's economy, but when you see what Marvel was asking for some of these goodies, it boggles the mind. I wasn't yet reading comics when this ad would have seen the light of day. Did you happen to notice that the Kirby FF art shown in the poster at right was recently used as the cover to the "lost issue" that would have been Fantastic Four #103 but was finished/patchworked by Big John Buscema and became FF #108? See to the left... That issue was about as strange to look at as the Tales of Suspense story involving Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner where Gene Colan started it and Kirby finished it. Not many other artists' styles matched the King's very well.

Doug: I also enjoyed that many ads had an emcee (sort of). In the case of the ad above, it's Bashful Benjy. In other ads I can recall from the Silver Age, it was the Hulk and even good ol' Doc Doom. Great stuff -- really light-hearted and even a little self-deprecating.

Karen: Moving into 1971, we still have posters for sale, but look who the artist is now: Steranko! The times were a'changing, to be certain. You got all 4 black and white posters ("for coloring"! No!!!) for a mere buck. Unbelievable. Although I have to say I'm not all that impressed with his Spidey, but the others are just wow!

Doug: Talk about a contrast in styles! And you and I noticed the same thing: Marvel seems to now be marketing the artist as much as their characters. Yes, you can not only have a Spidey poster, but a Spidey poster by Steranko! Sadly, longtime Bullpen stalwarts like Kirby, Heck, Colan, and Buscema never got that marquee treatment. They should have. But as to your comment on the times a'changing, they sure were. There was a new dynamism on the shelves when Neal Adams and Jim Steranko (et al.) blew in.

Karen: In Marvel titles dated August 1970, we got this tantalizing ad for a new title called Conan the Barbarian. Look at how this is put together -we get a small shot of Conan, and the very dramatic sword and flames. It's just enough to pull you in. It was also an example of Marvel showing a willingness to take chances and try out new ideas. As the banner says, "Mighty Marvel is on the move again!" They most definitely were, and I can't heap enough praise on Roy Thomas for the creative guidance he brought to Marvel in the 70s.

Doug: It's certainly eye-catching and with the exception of Arkon's appearance in the Avengers, way different from anything Marvel was producing at the time. Of course Conan would spawn many a companion/imitator mag (both color and B&W).

Karen: And then there were less successful ventures, such as The Cat and the whole mini-line of female-oriented books circa 1972. Although the original Cat did generate both Tigra and the Hellcat, who have been reliable supporting characters for many decades. All in all, Marvel's attempt to draw in female readers with titles like The Cat, Night Nurse, and Shanna the She-Devil was a dismal failure.

Doug: Valid points. And by the way, that may be the ugliest rendition of the Cat I've ever seen.

Karen: After Marvelmania folded, Marvel came up with its own fan club in 1973: FOOM! FOOM, which stood for "Friends of Ol' Marvel", was dearly loved by yours truly. The membership package included a card, stickers, and an outstanding 2' by 3' poster by Steranko featuring a ton of Marvel characters. Oh yeah, you also got a magazine produced in-house with lots of news about upcoming Marvel books, which was published quarterly. Just as Marvel had made readers feel like they were "a part of something" in the 60s, they continued this effort in the 70s with things like FOOM. Heck, I still have my magazines and poster!

Doug: Lordy, how I wanted to be a Friend of Ol' Marvel. But I don't recall that I ever even asked my mom to sign me up. Which is strange, because I did join the KISS Army. Today I sometimes look for issues of FOOM on ebay. I've never bought one, but I am curious. And hey, like I said above -- check out Benjamin J. talking to the reader!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

News You Can Use -- DC Comics Goes Digital

Doug: Howdy. I saw this information last night on Comics Blips, which linked me to Newsarama. The links below concern breaking news that DC Comics is entering the digital comic market, and what's more, they will pay royalties to their creators on a per download basis. You can peruse both stories, and then drop back by and leave a comment if you are so inclined.

Doug: So, where do I stand on this? I'm mixed, and that's not to say that I don't think it's a great idea. If you'll recall, Karen and I ran a post a few weeks ago about the demise of Both of us came clean and said we'd used the site. To be honest, I got swept up in it pretty hook, line, and sinker. It was an amazing collection of material. I fully support both Marvel's and DC's decision to market, and profit, from their own material. Where I'm mixed is that I just don't buy all that much that's new, and to be honest I find the subscription rates somewhat cost prohibitive for reading Silver and Bronze Age material. I've said it before -- I was and still am in love with the DVD-ROMs that Marvel published several years ago. They were cost-effective, and nearly comprehensive. As we've said, had they contained the Giant-Size issues they'd have been about perfect. Also as I've said, I really wish that Daredevil and Thor had gotten that treatment before the program ended. So while I applaud this attempt to stay cutting edge and connected with the ever-changing comics audience and how they receive entertainment in electronic media, I just don't see myself as a user.

Karen: It's been awhile since I last looked at the Marvel site, and I have to say, they've added many more silver and bronze age books since the last time I was there. There's still a lot of cool bronze age stuff that's missing -they have the 2007 Super-Villain Team-Up but not the original? And only one issue of Marvel Team-Up? Still $60 for a whole year isn't terrible. I might consider it, but I already have lots of books, and many of the ones I want , the digital comics don't have. They really do seem to focus on books from the last decade or so. Like Doug, I absolutely love the DVD-ROMs and would buy more of those if they would put them out. I'd love to have DVD ROM collections of even minor titles, like Astonishing Tales, Amazing Adventures, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two in One -the list goes on and on. But I haven't heard any news regarding this.

Karen: So what about the rest of you? Where do you stand on this?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Distinguished Competition: More June 1976 Cover Logos!

Doug: Hey, kids -- it's our second and final look at what DC published with a cover date of June 1976. Today we'll conclude our alphabetized look at what ol' National Periodical was throwing out there as competition against the beast that was Marvel Comics in the Bronze Age. Don't get too excited...

Doug: Kobra -- a book I never read. I couldn't even tell you the basic premise. I saw an article about it in Back Issue recently, but I didn't read it. So, as far as the book -- no comment. But, as far as the logo... I sort of like it. At least the intent is there. The hooded cobra-look to the K is nice, as is the tail on the A. But something about the font is just off enough to lead me to not say "this is a winner". I'll give the "A" for effort, but it's certainly not quite there yet. This is light years, however, ahead of most of what DC was doing at this time in terms of creativity.

Karen: I did read that Back Issue article, and I can tell you, I don't think either of us missed anything. This looks really goofy to me - all the rounded letters reminds me of the old "Plop" logo -it makes me think of a humor mag.

Doug: When a 1/2" headshot of ol' Rock by Joe Kubert is all ya got going for you, that's not good.

Karen: Someone wake me up when we get a good logo. Zzzzzz.....

Doug: Man, I sound like a broken record -- I have never seen the inside of one of these books. But, I will say that the logo shows imagination and seems appropriate for the irreverent contents of the book. So score one for the art department with this title!

Karen: Holy cow, here's Plop! I swear, I didn't look ahead! OK, for a humor book, I think it works fine.

Doug: Sigh... again. I will say that this logo blows away what ol' Shang chi was sporting at the House of Ideas. This is creatively relevant. Good stuff.

Karen: It works fine, although it seems a bit dated now. Actually it makes me want to order some Chinese take-out.

Doug: Now we're talking! Simple, yet dynamic. Equal billing for the star and the stars. And you'll recall from our past forays into fonts that I'm a sucker for italicized titles. Good one here, and I love the roll call in the right half of the banner.

Karen: A nostalgic favorite of mine, even if it is a wee bit too large.

Doug: Another classic Golden Age logo that was still relevant in the Bronze Age and down to today. I've always liked this, and it's instantly recognizable. You don't even have to read the word to know what it says. And the color scheme here just happens to be Supes' colors. Nice job!

Karen: You can't argue with a classic.

Doug: Love it! And I'm really glad Marvel chose to use the same logo when they appropriated the license in 1977. The nod to ERB is a nice touch, and the Kubert image from the cover of DC's very first Tarzan issue is wonderful. This may be one of the best in the batch!

Karen: It doesn't really express anything about Tarzan, but it's kind of classy.

Doug: Meh... you can have it. The "Weird" is sort of cool though. But doesn't the rest of it look hand-lettered? There's just no professionalism to it!

Karen: Gee, you're right, the A and R in War look sort of's a real hodge-podge of a logo.

Doug: This is another logo that was on the title from its inception. It's OK, but nothing to write home about. I do, however, like the iconic images of Supes and Bats on the left and their very cool logos on the right. So the banner ends up making this a winner for me.

Karen: Another yawn-inducing logo.

Doug: So Marvel must have just been pounding DC into the ground in 1976. Look at what's missing here -- no Green Lantern (as we said last time), no Teen Titans (hadn't been revived yet), no Wonder Woman, no JSA in All-Star Comics, no Hawkman, no Atom, no Aquaman... I mean, these are marquee characters! Where are they? There isn't even anything really new in these posts. This is just not good if you're trying to up your market share. Proof's in the pudding here, kids.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More "Mego"-like Goodness!

Doug: Quick post today, fans of all ages! I just saw this over at Superhero Times, and wanted to pass it on, because it's so doggone cool. The Batman in particular takes me back, as this is what my first Mego Batman looked like! Great job on this series, DC and Mattel!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Giant-Size June! G-S Super-Villain Team-Up #1

Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #1 (March 1975)
"Sub-Mariner Rising!" et al.
Roy Thomas-John Buscema/Joe Sinnott (pt. 1),
Roy Thomas-JohnBuscema/Johnny Craig (pt. 2) [reprints Sub-Mariner #20]
Larry Lieber/Roy Thomas-Larry Lieber and Frank Giacoia/Vince Colletta (pt. 3) [reprints Marvel Super-Heroes #20]

Doug: After Karen has led us through our previous forays into Giant-Size June, it's now my turn to serve as tour leader. I'm pretty excited about today's topic. While we've somewhat maligned the Giant-Size format as a short story of new material packed in with one or two reprints, this issue is no different -- but it works.

Doug: Scribe Roy Thomas offers some backstory to the genesis of Super-Villain Team-Up. Seems he was talking with Stan Lee about getting some baddies together when he began to leaf through his bound edition of Fantastic Four comics. Drawing inspiration from the re-introduction of Namor in FF #4, Doom's debut in #5, and their short-lived alliance in #6, he decided to give it a whirl. Now this was transpiring as Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 was hitting the shelves (that title would become GS FF #2), and Stan was excited about the larger page count. Suddenly feeling the need to expedite the process, Roy drew on two stories involving Doom and Namor that he'd previously written and then commissioned Big John Buscema to draw framing sequences. Even though GS SVTU #1 contains only 10 pages of new story, it's really a fun read.

Karen: I wonder if this may be what Roy called a 'super-giant' back in Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1, as it is 68 pages for 50 cents. Of course, it's mostly reprint, which is a bit of a bummer. I'll admit though, that the framing sequence is well done -and the art is gorgeous.

Doug: The basic premise is this -- Doom's body is rocketing earthward, the good Doctor unconscious. This picks up immediately following the events of Fantastic Four #144, where Doom had battled Darkoth the Death-Demon on a space station. Doom's armor protects him from burning up upon re-entry, and he lands with a mighty splash in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Well, well, well -- who should happen by but the Avenging Son himself? Namor, who had been looking for Doom, brings him aboard the Atlantean cruiser and resuscitates him using some high tech defibrillator. Of course, Doom doesn't awake happy, and the shouting commences.

Doug: Namor offers an alliance with Doom, and as Victor ponders it, we segue into a reprint of Sub-Mariner #20. Now I had never read that issue, so I was not in the least offended by its inclusion in this story. I'll go further and say I appreciated Roy's effort at wrapping his new material around the old. Although G-S Avengers #1 dealt with the Whizzer, a WWII-era hero, the reprint included dealt with Cap and the Original Human Torch; a reprint of the All-Winners Squad might have been more appropriate.

Doug: The plot of the Subby reprint is that a de-powered Namor finds himself taking refuge in the Latverian Embassy in New York -- this to evade National Guard troops sent of course to capture him. What ensues is a nicely-spun tale of Doom attempting to subjugate the Sub-Mariner, only to have the tables turned on him. Roy really crafted a great story then, and it serves nicely for the set-up for this Super-Villain Team-Up ongoing series. I especially liked seeing the pencils of John Buscema, separated by a few years and under the influence of two different inkers -- Johnny Craig in the reprint and Joe Sinnott in the "present". I have to say I liked Craig's treatment better.

Karen: I had never read this story before either; I was never a big fan of the Sub-Mariner in his own title, although I enjoy him as a guest star. But now I find myself going back and buying a lot of stuff I passed up back in the day. I could see adding Sub-Mariner to the list. I have to disagree with you on the art though; I like Sinnott's heavier inks.

Doug: Back in the cruiser, we see Doom and Namor continuing to negotiate. Doom wonders to himself if another alliance is a good idea, as he reflects on another time when he joined forces. The next reprint is from Marvel Super-Heroes #20 and features Diablo the alchemist. This one's not as good a story, although it does benefit from Thomas' hand in the production. But Larry Lieber's art is more of a throwback to the Silver Age and is offsetting to Buscema's work. The highlight of the story is a partial retelling of Doom's origin from FF Annual #2 and a plotline involving Doom's childhood love, Valeria. There's a nice resolution at the end, making this issue not a total loss.

Karen: I'll admit it: for this review I only skimmed the second story. As you say, the art is off-putting. Besides, I never cared for Diablo. The origin sequences were interesting though.

Doug: This one closes out with more fisticuffs between Doom and Namor, and Doom's sudden departure from Namor's presence. Determined, Namor heads to open seas where he proclaims, "Go - try your own schemes - and when you have failed, you shall see that our twin destiny is written in fiery letters across the cosmos: The Sub-Mariner and Dr. Doom shall fight again, side by side -- and they shall topple the World!!"

Karen: The fight at the end of the issue is fantastic - I especially liked the panel where Doom is choking Subby! You really feel like this is a fight to the death, unlike so many other comic fights. These guys are both bad guys, or at least in Namor's case, more of an anti-hero -so the rules of conduct go out the window!

Doug: The next issue is actually Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #2, and then it moved into the regular-sized ongoing that would be a favorite of mine throughout it's lifespan.

Karen: Yes, I loved that book too. Come to think of it, I think GSSVTU #2 also connected to Roy's previous work on Doom, by including the Doomsman from Astonishing Tales. The ongoing
series was one of the more free-wheeling books out there, where you never knew what to expect. There were lots of guest-stars, like the FF and Avengers, and new characters, like the Shroud. I always wished it had run longer than 17 issues.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Badoon Go Home!: Guardians of the Galaxy part 4


Defenders #29 (November 1975)
"Let My Planet Go!"
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artists: Sal Buscema/Vince Colletta

Karen: This is our final review in this Guardians of the Galaxy storyline which ran through the Defenders. What I find so amazing about this storyline is that it is both conventional and highly unconventional, all at the same time. The familiar super-hero cliches are still here, and yet, there's a real eccentricity to it. But in a very readable and enjoyable way.

Doug: It's intergalactic, yet homey -- it's a hodgepodge of images from previous stories and sources. And the freedom-fighter aspect holds it together nicely. There's a real sense of purpose throughout.

Karen: We pick up the action with a Badoon firing squad about to blast Nighthawk, Charlie-27, and Martinex. Valkyrie and Vance Astro have been teleported to the scene by the astral form of Dr. Strange. They stop the execution and the combined heroes attack the Badoon.

Doug: Yes, it's all a little too convenient, but the sense of urgency with which the heroes burst forth from this scene is still strongly suspenseful.

Karen: Back on the planet of the drunks, the Hulk and one of King Goozot's wives, who strangely enough found herself attracted to Hulk, are transported to an icy land, all as a part of the bizarre game show from last issue. It's fun to see the old, childlike Hulk here. Personally I've had too much of the modern, mass murdering Hulk.

Doug: "Hulk's name is "Hulk" -- not stupid "Mr. Green". But Hulk will help girl." Vintage...
Karen: He and the girl are attacked by robotic bugs, but of course, Hulk eventually destroys them all, bringing down a mountain to boot! Just as Hulk is about to smash show host "Mon-Tee", he and Yondu are teleported to Earth to join the fight with their team-mates.
Doug: There was a nice little hydra motif to the bugs -- the more Hulk smashed, the more there were.

Karen: Back on the Guardians' ship, Strange comes out of his trance and finds a stowaway - Jack Norriss, the husband of Valkyrie's mortal form, Barbara Norriss. Seems Jack sneaked aboard the ship before they took off to stay close to Val. Now he tells Strange that he wants to help in the fight against the Badoon. Unfortunately, here's where I feel like the wheels came off a bit. Strange and Norriss travel to Badoon-controlled prisons all over Earth, freeing the humans in each place, allowing them to attack their oppressors. It sort of makes the rest of the team members seem unnecessary, but then, that's always a problem when you have such powerful characters - whether it be Dr. Strange or the Surfer or Superman or the Spectre - on a team book. As Norriss says to Strange, "You could've zapped the Badoon off the face of the Earth all by yourself, couldn't you? Why--?" "It would have rendered all the years of enslavement meaningless, even if it were within my power," Strange replies. Still, it felt a bit like a 'deus ex machina' ending to me.

Doug: I totally agree with you. I also found it a bit uncomfortable that Strange allowed the now-free prisoners to work their will on the Badoon. I was left wondering about any sense of justice, of whether or not there should have been some way of meting out a punishment beyond death. I just felt that Strange had all of this power to change the course of this history, yet when it further degenerated into more slaughter, he chose sides and allowed it to happen on the human-vs.-Badoon side.

Karen: We get a few more scenes with Starhawk -"the one who knows" -sheesh, that's almost as maddening as Mantis' "this one"- and the suggestion that he will accompany the Guardians in their quest to free Earth. Doc rather unceremoniously transports the Defenders back to Earth circa 1975, which ticks off Nighthawk, who wanted to finish the job back in the future. I have to say it was a bit unsatisfying to me. But the overall story was very engaging, and it certainly compelled me to read the Guardians series that ran in Marvel Presents.
Doug: You're right -- if Gerber was charged with selling books, he certainly set us up with a story that ended right in the middle. I really can't recall if I had too many of the Marvel Presents issues -- I'm sure I had at least one. I thought the real mystery here that was left hanging was when Starhawk visited his seeming "home", was embraced by children, and we met Aleta for the first time. That's the dangling plot thread that made me want more.
Doug: I really enjoyed this look back. The first time we inspected the Defenders was in their earliest appearances in Marvel Feature. By this time the team had hit its stride with the line-up I was most familiar with from my childhood, and Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema provided a solid story that for the most part was well-delivered. Truly, this was the second Marvel Age of Comics!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happy Anniversary to the Bronze Age Babies!

Karen: It was a year ago that Doug and I started this little blog of ours, and I have to say, I've really enjoyed what we've done. Being able to expound on some of our favorite comics, movies, and music has been a blast, particularly when we get comments from those of you out there (you know who you are!) who seem to enjoy what we're doing. So thank you for all your support and enthusiasm.

Doug: Agreed -- this has been a fun trip down memory lane for me. Years ago, when Karen and I were headquartered on the Avengers Assemble message boards, I remarked that I just didn't take the time to read comics. I could find the time, but was just too lazy to trudge down to my basement "comic room" to pick out something. Well, after reviewing 74 comics/tpbs over on the Two Girls, A Guy, and Some Comics blog, and another almost-100 here, I can say that I am having the time of my life. It's been such a joy discovering and re-discovering many of the books I had or read as a child.

Karen: We've been looking back at all the posts and seeing which ones seemed to work really well, and which ones, well, might not have been such a great idea! First, let's discuss some of the posts we enjoyed the most. I'll start by bringing up our recent three-part review of Iron Man's Demon in A Bottle story. I think we both found ourselves really digging that story, and it came across in the posts. We also got a fair number of comments on it. It probably didn't hurt that Iron Man 2 was about to come out!

Doug: I've had a little experience with alcoholism in my family, and I thought David Michelinie did a super job portraying many of the issues associated with that condition. For me, it was sometimes very real, and I'll offer that it was not trivialized at all for the comic book medium.

Karen: Our journey through the changes in the Comics Code was a fun look at how much standards have changed. Some of the things that seemed so forbidden 40 years ago now look so mild; but the industry was still reeling from Wertham and the damage he inflicted.

Doug: You know, I did enjoy that collection of posts, but at 10 in length it's by far been our longest inspection of any title/subject. While I had a blast, and think it was an interesting way to get into the greater exploration of the Bronze Age, I hope we didn't lose anyone along the way. My favorite part of that run was the criticisms of Amazing Spider-Man #'s 96-98, the so-called drug issues. Lee-Kane-Romita and the Green Goblin. What's not to love?

Doug: I also really liked the All-New, All-Different X-Men issues we looked at. The Sentinels are always cool, and it was really fun to revisit the birth of the Phoenix. Claremont's early characterization for such icons as Wolverine was interesting as well.

Karen: Agreed, doing those posts made me remember how important X-Men was to me back in those days -and what an exciting run it was. With all the overexposure of the team, I'd nearly forgotten how good it once was.

Doug: One little run of posts I was surprised at was our discussion of the O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories. As I said (at least I think I said), it was my first time through the reading -- I'd looked at them a bunch in the past, but had never read them. One of the conversations Karen and I had offline was that we felt we were being really negative on those issues. Many of you readers commented on the timeframe, the revolutionary writing, etc. Overall it was a healthy exercise, and I am sure we'll be getting back to another 3-4 issues in the not-too-distant future.

Karen: I actually felt a little guilty, saying anything negative about those stories! But read today, they felt heavy-handed. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate what they were doing with them some 40 years ago.

Karen: In a similar vein, I thought our review of the first appearance of Tyroc in the Legion was pretty negative -but deservedly so!

Doug: Ah yes, Tyroc. He is currently holding down a place of honor on our masthead. We have really meant to get back to the Legion, but we keep getting other ideas! Rest assured, 30th Century fans, that we shall return! And by the way, we'd advertised a look at The Great Darkness Saga a few weeks ago -- that is on hold until the new edition of the tpb and/or hardcover is released in the fall.

Karen: Some of the reviews I really enjoyed doing were our look at the second coming of Galactus in Fantastic Four and the recent Giant-Size reviews. We have to get back to some more Roy Thomas FF issues.

Doug: Roy needs to get back on the schedule. I'd also like to delve into Galactus' next appearance, which kicked off with a Golden Gorilla (everything's better with gorillas...) and then had a nice throwdown between the Thing and the Destroyer!

Karen: We've done a number of continuing features, and I think the best of these is probably the Two-in-One reviews. I really enjoy seeing what Doug has picked out for his part of the review.

Doug: The sentiment's the same. We have different tastes in comics to a degree -- I somewhat consider Karen more of a risk-taker. I always enjoy the education I receive when Karen goes solo.

Karen: I also like the lists -and I realize, we've only done two "Top Ten Stories" features -one on Avengers and one on Thor. I think it's time we do a few more.

Doug: Yeah, I don't know why those fell by the wayside. We certainly shouldn't hurt for material. We should give that treatment to Spidey and the FF this year.

Karen: The Dressed for Success/Fashion Disaster posts are always fun for me. There seems to be an almost limitless amount of subjects for us to draw upon!

Doug: I think my favorite posts in that series were the Wonder Man one -- just because everything he's worn (sans the "civvies") was so gawdawful gawdy -- and the Phantom Lady post. Rest assured that the Phantom Lady got us a lot of visits because we originally had the word "pornographic" in the title. Ahem... But just discussing the practicality of her outfit was fun. No chance that's staying all in place!

Karen: On the other hand, some of the features I thought should work really haven't seemed to elicit much response at all. I don't know why, but none of the movie or TV posts seem to get much interest. The music posts do though. And let's not talk at all about the Weird Wednesdays stuff...I was going through a phase!

Doug: I liked your Weird Wednesdays posts -- how can you go wrong with Bigfoot and UFOs? But I agree -- we didn't seem to generate much conversation with any of that.

Karen: I'm really curious though, to know what our wonderful readers would like to see more of. More comics reviews? More lists?

Doug: And just so you can give us some feedback, Karen's cooked up a poll to your left. Let us know what we've done right and should be doing in the future.

Doug: And thanks for all of the visits and especially the comments -- the feedback is welcome!

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